by Sandy Lai
The island of Kyushu has some of Japan’s greatest natural landscapes. Among its mountains is Mt. Aso, the country’s most active volcano, an indication of the fervent activity lying underneath this lush island. This geological setting ensures that there is an abundance of hot springs, or onsen. Relaxing in these hot springs plays a big part in Japanese culture, and the nurturing waters rejuvenate your body with their minerals. Beppu is a city on Kyushu that is considered by many to
be the capital of onsen. In addition to the ones open for bathing, there are nine hot springs known as hells orjigoku that are amazing to see.
The hells are each unique in their composition and the bubbling waters range from milky blue to muddy red to concrete grey. Given their unique properties, they each have fun names like Mountain Hell and Green
Dragon Hell. Umi Jigoku, or the Sea Hell is the most picturesque with cerulean waters that lend itself well to the rest of the landscape. Oniishibozu Jigoku is named after the bubbling mud, which seeps up from the spring and resemble shaven monks’ heads. At Monster Mountain Hell, crocodiles are found, though to be honest, it’s a little depressing seeing them in such a small quarters. Chinoike Jigoku is the Blood Pond Hell and while it’s waters aren’t quite blood red, it is a sight to be seen. The Spout Hell, not surprisingly, is a geyser that gushes its hot water every half an hour
or so. You can spend a good half-day visiting each jigoku before venturing off to soak in a hot spring yourself.
A note about bathing in an onsen. At the vast majority of hot springs, men and women are separated into their own baths as you will be bathing naked. It is very taboo not to clean yourself properly before entering the onsen. Also, tattoos are frowned upon and many places will refuse entry if you have one, and being naked makes them hard to hide. That being said, it is a very therapeutic experience and there are many options in Beppu. Some choice ones are Hyotan Onsen, a public bath house with “waterfalls” for massaging your tense shoulders. Takegawara is Beppu’s most famous onsen and offers sand baths as well. For mud baths, head to Onsen Hoyo Land. The facility looks rather run down, but the mud baths are fantastic. And for those who are shy, Aqua Garden is a very rare hot spring where they allow you to wear your bathing suit!
Other parts of nature can be explored as well. Just outside of Beppu is Takasakiyama Monkey Park, located at the base of a mountain. As the name suggest, you can see over 1500 wild Japanese monkeys, roaming amongst the trees in the open. You can purchase a Monkey Marine ticket that combines the entrance fee for the park and the Umitamago Aquarium. The aquarium is quite unique in design, and feels like a cross between an aquarium and an art museum.